A most unique block on 70th Road between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard is nicknamed “Restaurant Row” for its sidewalk cafes. However, the clock may be ticking for this strip of popular and culturally diverse restaurants in the heart of the neighborhood's business district.
Last week, a rendering surfaced showing a mixed-use residential tower at 107-18 70th Road designed by Morali Architects. Immediately thereafter, a petition urging Community Board 6 to save Restaurant Row on Change.org garnered 1,545 signatures in support.
If the rendering becomes reality, the future of The Grill, Cabana Restaurant & Bar, MoCa Asian Bistro, and Bangkok Cuisine is in jeopardy. The block also consists of Aged Restaurant & Bar, Narita Japanese Cuisine, and Vanilla Sky, which may not be affected by the plan.
At a February 10th CB6 meeting, attorney Adam Rothkrug presented the plans on behalf of the developer. Currently, the property is zoned C4-4A, which permits a seven-story residential building with commercial space on the ground level. However, the developer is seeking a special permit from CB6 for the right to build up to 12 stories, claiming that the benefits would be a green roof and over 60 parking spaces.
“At the outset, I want to say that my office is committed towards preserving Restaurant Row,” Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said in an interview. “I and the rest of the community would like the existing restaurants preserved during construction. This would add to the cost of the project, but if it is physically possible, and I am not an engineer, I want to work with the developer to achieve this.”
The Grill owner Oleg Kaz spoke at the CB6 meeting to a huge round of applause.
“I plan to fight until the end to preserve the famous Restaurant Row of Forest Hills and keep Forest Hills unique,” he said.
The Grill opened two years ago, and the Mediterranean restaurant is a big part of the summer jazz festivals on Restaurant Row.
“The developers and landlords do not care that each restaurant has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is their life savings into these small businesses,” he added. “Each owner and employee has a family and kids to provide for.”
Also working to preserve Restaurant Row is Walter Weis, president of Lane Towers co-op board.
“The restaurants not only bring a variety of ethnic foods, but a charm to the community which chain stores cannot,” he said. “Community Board 6 members need to know that if they vote for the variance, that they do not have the support of the community.”
Restaurant Row is a one-of-a-kind block, according to Forest Hills resident M. Cheng, who started the online petition.
“Throughout the year, the restaurants and outdoor cafes are bustling with friends, family, and neighbors enjoying a delicious meal,” she said. “Its destruction would also threaten the success of all local businesses and the neighborhood’s integrity.”
David Li and his family are Restaurant Row regulars.
“Taking away Restaurant Row will eliminate the center of the Forest Hills culinary experience and a major reason why Queens residents come to Forest Hills, especially now with Barnes & Noble gone,” he said.
Forest Hills resident Beatriz Rodriguez questioned whether the developer understands the concept of “livelihood.”
“Another apartment building doesn’t benefit the area,” she said. “Closing a restaurant or any small business for even a month is a death sentence to a small business owner, who is a real person creating jobs and providing services for the area.”